While the Federal Communications Commission thought letting people chitchat on cellphones was a swell idea, and the U.S. Department of Transportation felt otherwise, there was no mistaking during Thursday’s back and forth what people who fly the planes think.
Pilots like everybody to be happy back there as passengers squeeze into seats and have others recline into their personal space. Pilots do not need anything else — like somebody shouting into the phone so hard-of-hearing Aunt Shirley can get every word — to rile people.
If approved, the new rules would mean consumers could use their data plans to surf the Web or send e-mails and texts once a plane reaches 10,000 feet. But flights would remain free of the cacophony of people jabbering into their phones.
Perhaps the most vocal opponents of such chitchat were the flight attendants who work cabins filled with 200-400 potential cellphone callers.
“This would make them mediators between passengers,” said Corey Caldwell of the Association of Flight Attendants. “Flight attendants’ first responsibility is safety. They’re there to ensure that the cabin is maintained as a secure, calm environment.”
Caldwell, spokeswoman for a group that represents 60,000 flight attendants, called approving phone conversations “a very bad idea.”
“The FCC is only looking at this from a technology point of view,” she said. “The DOT had to evaluate the rest of the issues. It causes an extreme nuisance for passengers.”
She also pointed to studies that questioned the effects of low-level radiation emanating from cellphones.
“What’s the effect of that in an enclosed tube flying at 30,000 feet?” she said. “There are still a lot of issues that need to be fleshed out on this.”
At the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, executive vice president Larry Rooney called the two federal decisions “new news” that his group would evaluate before taking a position.
“CAPA believes that any new guidelines should be implemented on a case-by-case basis so we can see what the effect would be on the status quo,” Rooney said. “We’ve always encouraged our passengers to comply with crew members’ instructions.”
His diplomatic response aside, other veteran pilots conjured up scenarios where crew members would have to break up fistfights between the passenger who wanted to sleep and the passenger who hoped to use the flight to touch base with long-lost friends and family.